BUFFALO – In 2012, Team USA general manager Jim Johannson made an out-of-the-box choice, hiring a high school coach to lead the country’s entry at the World Junior Championship.
His name? Phil Housley.
Housley, an NHL legend, had served as an assistant twice for Team USA at the tournament. Still, he had no pro, college or major junior coaching experience. He had only been a head coach for Stillwater High School in Minnesota.
Team USA won gold that year, putting Housley on the coaching map. Months later, the Nashville Predators hired him as an assistant.
Today, Housley is in his first season as the Sabres’ coach. Johannson’s belief in his close friend buoyed Housley’s career.
Johannson died unexpectedly in his sleep this morning in his Colorado Springs home, according to USA Hockey. He was 53.
Johannson was also Team USA’s Olympic GM for next month’s Pyeongchang Games.
Housley was shaken by Johannson’s passing and didn’t speak to the media this morning after the Sabres practiced.
Both were born in 1964 in Minnesota and are names synonymous with USA Hockey.
Late this morning, Housley tweeted the following: “It comes with a heavy heart hearing about the passing of my close friend JJ. One of the best leaders of USA Hockey who grew our game to new heights. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and he will truly be missed, but his legacy will carry on. It’s a sad day for hockey!”
The Sabres, who just hosted the World Junior Championship and have close ties to USA Hockey, released the following statement from owners Terry and Kim Pegula: “When we heard of JJ’s passing, we are reminded of what an enjoyable person he was to be around, and also what he meant to USA Hockey and hockey worldwide. We should all strive to do our jobs and treat people as JJ did. Jim Johannson, you have moved on, but you will not be forgotten. We will miss you.”
It comes with a heavy heart hearing about the passing of my close friend JJ. One of the best leaders of @usahockey who grew our game to new heights! My thoughts and prayers are with his family and he will truly be missed, but his legacy will carry on. It’s a sad day for hockey!
— Phil Housley (@philhousley6) January 21, 2018